In its first year under new head coach Alex Wray, Carroll County’s young wrestling team is starting to hit its stride.
The Cavaliers, a team comprised of mostly freshmen, have won three of their last four matches, including a sweep of a tri-meet January 10 at Radford High School. There, the Cavaliers defeated Three Rivers District foes Radford 60-12 and beat Floyd County 54-9. Recently, Carroll has also had a close six-point loss to Galax in addition to another victory.
“I feel like we should have beat Galax. We are still young and inexperienced, but after that loss we saw how close we are and they are coming together and beginning to believe. They work so hard, they put the work in. The hard work is showing and they are hungry,” Wray said. “At our own tournament we placed third and we are almost at a full team right now. We will be the strongest we have been all year. We have filled all weight classes but one, 126 pounds, but I believe with the personnel we have I believe we are going to do great this weekend. I am really excited. I wasn’t expecting us to be where we are at right now.”
Wray said he purposely scheduled a lot of tri-meets and quad matches this year to give his team time to develop and to let him get accustomed to their strengths and weaknesses. He also felt like it would give the team a chance to adjust to his coaching style, too.
“Every day is not a perfect day but the young people understand it is how you deal with those days that make you stronger. And right now they are dealing with everything from school to parents to wrestling,” Wray said. “They see the prize. Everybody is counting us out but nobody sees what we see. If you don’t believe I will make you believe at the end of this. My goal is still to win the conference at the end of this first year and we believe it as a team and that is all that matters. It is not how you start, it is how you finish. I am here to win. These kids are not losers, they are winners and they are tired of losing. I came here to win and these kids believe in the system. I want to do what they say can’t be done. If you are going to beat me you better hurry up and beat me this year because you aren’t going to get many wins after this year.”
Wray sees several very talented wrestlers on this year’s Cavaliers’ squad. While the team began the season with no seniors (Carroll has 11 freshmen, two sophomores and three juniors), 12th grader Cade Snow has since joined the fold. A standout linebacker for the football team, Snow is having great success in the 182-pound weight class after not wrestling for several years.
“We have a couple of wrestlers injured at that weight class and I was frustrated. I went around and somebody told me he used to wrestle and his dad was a jujitsu champion and I called him out of class,” Wray said. “I said, ‘Look man, I am trying to do something they say can’t be done. We need a 182 pounder.’ I said, ‘I am not asking you, I am begging you to be a part of my foundation team. This team they will be talking about for years. You can tell your grandkids I was on his first team.’ I said, ‘Cade, that is what you are going to say, I need you on my team,’ and he said, ‘Yes coach’ and he came out. He has won his last six matches. He has done really well.”
Elijah Caviness has had a fantastic junior year so far at 145 pounds. It began by winning his weight class at the Carroll County Invitational. Caviness is currently 16-1 for the season.
“The only match he lost was to the kid number one in state. He has pinned everybody he has wrestled,” Wray said. “Elijah is dropping to 138 this weekend. We have three that are dropping in weight classes. When we make drops it makes our team so much stronger.”
Dustin Dalton has also had a wonderful junior season so far. He has improved tremendously since the beginning of the year, Wray said, and is one of Carroll’s most versatile wrestlers.
“Dustin Dalton is a freak of nature. He has been moving around. He wrestles at 152 but has been wrestling some at 160 and 170. Wherever he needs to go he goes,” Wray said. “Last weekend he was at 170 and he beat some real good kids. He is dropping back to 152. He is a handful and he has gotten a lot better.”
Wray said another junior that has impressed is Trenton Burnette. After starting the season at 120 pounds, Burnette has dropped to 113 and has won his last four matches – all by pinfall.
“He has not lost a match at 113 since he dropped weight classes,” Wray said.
Sophomore Jade Poe has only lost one match this season for the Cavaliers. He has had to miss a pair of quad matches this year, but his only loss on the mat was in the finals of the Carroll County Invitational to the number one wrestler in the state in 2A, Wray said.
“He hasn’t lost a match since. I think he is 12-1 now,” Wray said. “He was at 126 pounds but he dropped a class for us and is at 120 now. I told them if you make the commitment and have the discipline to drop the weight class, it will make the team stronger but it will make you stronger as well. The kids are doing what they are supposed to be doing and making the drop and it will benefit us at the end.”
One of the leaders of the freshman class is heavyweight Teague Henley. A load at 6-2, 265 pounds, Henley has the potential to do great things at Carroll County, Wray said.
“He has won his last four matches and he is beating juniors and seniors as a freshman,” Wray said. “Before it even happens, I know when I know, and before he leaves he will be one of the best offensive and defensive linemen at Carroll County and will win a state championship in wrestling. He will be one of the best heavyweight wrestlers ever at Carroll County High School. Kids are going to want to grow up and be Teague.”
One of the team’s overall leaders is sophomore Jackson Shumate. A 160-pounder, Shumate will also be a state champion before he leaves, Wray believes.
“He is so talented. He is a general for us, a coach’s kid with the whole foundation behind him,” Wray said. “He is a leader, one of those people they will follow to war. Me being a general, I need those soldiers around me. He is a good young man and a great wrestler. He lost a match to a kid that placed third in the state by one point two weeks ago and he hasn’t lost since.”
Other freshmen that have looked good to Wray include Tyler Hawks at 132 pounds and Isaac Brown at 106 pounds.
“Tyler is a tough and Isaac has won his last four or five matches,” Wray said. “He had never wrestled before, but he is a freakish athlete and now he is putting it together. After he got his first win it was on. He has pinned his last three opponents.”
The Cavaliers also have a girl on the team who has proven to be a tough opponent. Freshman Kaytlyn Russell has won her last three matches and pinned every female opponent she has faced. She is the first girl Wray has ever coached, but he sees special qualities in her.
“She is athletic and tough and she has been beating these girls up. I told her to give me four years and if you train right and stay with the boys, I will make you the best girl, not in Virginia, but on the planet, and get you to college and get you a full ride,” Wray said. “She is the second best girl wrestler I have seen and she is only a freshman. There is nothing she can’t do. And she makes straight As, real smart. This is a way for her to do whatever she wants to do. I tell all my kids that, you can make your dreams a reality if you go get them.”
As for the future, Wray has big plans for Cavalier wrestling. He plans to run youth wrestling camps at every elementary school in the county this summer. He also plans to have a big wrestling camp at both the high school and middle school each year. He sees a lot of potential in the wrestlers already at the middle school and is excited about the future.
“We have to work together if we are going to grow. I am here to win state championships. I will give you everything I’ve got – blood, sweat and tears,” Wray said. “It’s more than just wrestling to me, it is a lifestyle. It is life and how you deal with it. In the wrestling room you get beat up and knocked down, but it is how you get back up and deal with it and push through it. That room is tough, but hey, life is tough. These kids are tough and I love these boys.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN